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What Does One Do With a Degree in Comedy? Columbia Grad About to Find Out

By Mark Konkol | November 5, 2014 5:43am
 Willy J. Sasso graduated with a degree in comedy-writing and performance from Columbia College in the spring. Now he's looking to get his first dark comedy, "Found Footage," into indie film festivals.
Willy J. Sasso graduated with a degree in comedy-writing and performance from Columbia College in the spring. Now he's looking to get his first dark comedy, "Found Footage," into indie film festivals.
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Willy J. Sasso

SOUTH LOOP — Willy J. Sasso makes me laugh, which you could say is a testament to the effectiveness of his recently acquired bachelor's degree in, well, the funny arts and sciences.

That’s not a joke.

Last year, Columbia College Chicago teamed with The Second City Theatre to become the only college in the country to offer a four-year degree in comedy-writing and performance.

Sasso and his classmates made history as America’s first comedy college graduates when they got their diplomas last spring.

I know you might be wondering exactly what kind of work a guy (or gal) with a bachelor's in comedy expects to get after college.

Willy Sasso says growing up near Columbine High School in Colorado shaped much of his dark humor:

While that question brings to mind obvious jobs that double as punchlines — barista, bartender and weed dealer, among others — I can say with all seriousness that Sasso believes his education in “making people laugh” has prepared him to make comedy a legitimate vocation with real earning potential.

Even before graduation, Sasso started sprinting toward his dream job as a performer, writer and director by teaming with his childhood pal, Drew Byerly, to produce a feature-length dark comedy called “Found Footage.”

The Littleton, Colorado, native sent me a copy of the “no-budget” independent film that satirically takes aim at how the media portrays school bullies and mass shooters.

“I grew up about 10 minutes away from Columbine, and it was a big part of my growing-up experience,” Sasso said. “This was our attempt to satirically present how the media portrays mass shootings and that all kids who presumably get bullied [are caused to] act out in violent ways.”

“Found Footage” is shot in the shaky style of “The Blair Witch Project” with all the cringe-worthy moments you’d expect from an uncensored sketch comedy bit at The Second City. Sasso and Byerly dive into what they hope is their future by mining from the awkward experiences of young adulthood.

“Drew is my partner in crime. I love acting. He loves directing. That’s how we became best friends,” Sasso said. “In high school we made an awful sitcom called "Drew and Bill." When I look at it now, it makes me cringe to think that we might have thought [the Disney Channel’s] 'The Suite Life of Zack and Cody' was the best thing ever. Now, we want to write films and make films together.”

Found Footage
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Willie J. Sasso and Drew Byerly

And they haven’t wasted any time.

“Found Footage” centers on three high school friends who “feel bullied” and come up with a flawed plan to round up their tormentors (and some “hot girls”), and lock them together in a warehouse packed with weapons in hopes they’ll kill each other while hidden cameras roll.

“I think a lot of what we did was find our comedic voice, and you can see mine and Drew’s humor in the film,” Sasso said. “For the most part it’s a tribute to the found footage and cheesy horror genre of movies that we’re not really fond of. The irony is we’re making fun of cheesy found footage horror movies by making a cheesy found footage horror movie.”

Sasso, 22, said he’s hoping to get “Found Footage” distributed online and accepted into film festivals by next year.

“We’ve had some test screenings, and people seem to like it,” he said. “We don’t see it as something we did to show people that we can make a movie. I think the film is good and I’m hoping to find a way so people can watch it and enjoy.”

Sasso says he’s already heard from a producer interested in their work. He’s enrolled at The Second City Conservatory, and he’s working on a one-man show set to take the tiny stage at Davenport’s Piano Bar in Wicker Park this winter. 

And to do that, he’s making ends meet by working one of those jobs that some people might think double as a punch line — and no, he’s not selling weed.

“I went to school to be funny because that’s exactly what I want to do, but I’m also a server at Flo and Santos in the South Loop,” he said, “A guy’s gotta pay rent and eat, and there’s nothing funny about a homeless comedian begging for food. ... Or is there?”

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